Dark Comedy by George F. Walker Disturbs Gershwin Theater, April 25 – May 5

Family patriarch Tom Dawson (Daniel Roach) holds a gun on Detective Mike Dixon (Damon Noland), who is investigating an attack on Dawson's son-in-law.

April 22, 2002    Escape From Happiness, by celebrated Canadian playwright George F. Walker, brings its decidedly unorthodox family values to the main stage at Brooklyn College's Gershwin Theater for ten performances, April 25 through May 5.

   "It's a black comedy about an extremely dysfunctional family," explains director David Melville Kennedy, who compares the play to You Can't Take It with You, the classic Moss Hart and George S. Kauffman comedy about an eccentric Brooklyn family. The atmosphere of Walker's 1992 play is grittier than that of the 1936 classic--there's alcoholism, drugs, pornography and plenty of raunchy language—-but Escape from Happiness is essentially a screwball comedy.

    Set in the kitchen of a run-down family home, the play seems to have little to recommend it as comedic entertainment. Tom (Dan Roach), is an ex-cop who physically abused his family before walking out on them. He seems to be suffering from an Alzheimer's-like dementia and is incapable of heating his own soup when he returns to his wife, Nora (Mary Claire Dunn) and three grown daughters after ten years. Nora believes her husband is really dead and that this person she has allowed to live in her home just happens to resemble him. Tom is shunned by everyone except his youngest daughter, Gail (Emily Strang) and her husband, Junior (Eric Scarimbolo).
Detectives Mike Dixon (Damon Noland) and Dian Black (Amanda Cooley Davis) have a disagreement over the quality of police brutality needed to deal with the Dawson family.

    The play begins with Junior lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. The pair of detectives who arrive on the scene to investigate the attack believe it might be linked to organized crime. Gail calls her two sisters for a family meeting. Middle sister Mary-Ann (Rachel Flehinger) is at a crossroads in her own self-obsessed world and has apparently just left her husband and baby. Oldest sister Elizabeth (Katarina Vizina) is a lawyer and, therefore, one might suppose, well placed to help her family. But Elizabeth, too, has issues.

         Far from finding Junior's assailants, the detectives instead discover drugs stashed in the basement. Things spiral hectically downward as Nora is arrested for possession, Elizabeth captures one of Junior's attackers, and Mary-Ann learns she can move on from the fear of her father.

       The play is part of a trilogy by Toronto native Walker, who worked as a taxi driver before turning to drama in the 1970s, and is famous for the gritty, yet musical, quality of his dialogue—-which has led some critics to describe his works as "spoken operas."

    "It's a great contemporary play," says fellow-Canadian David Kennedy, who was asked by Thomas Bullard, professor of directing and head of the graduate directing program, to direct a play at Brooklyn College. "I chose the play because it has five really strong women characters, and you don't see too many like that. Hopefully the audience will find it funny, too. It doesn't have any comic parts, but it's got a lot of deadpan black humor. Even if it's not funny, it works."

      The production features a cast of ten student actors, including B.F.A. acting students and first- and second-year M.F.A. acting students. Performances of Escape from Happiness will be held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 for Thursday and Friday evening and the Saturday matinee and $11 for Saturday evening and the Sunday matinee. Prices for senior citizen and student ticket prices are $9 for Thursday and Friday evening and the Saturday matinee, $10 for the Saturday evening and Sunday matinee. Student rush tickets, $5, are available on Thursday and Friday evening and the Saturday matinee one hour prior to curtain (with student identification). For more information, call the Brooklyn Center box office, (718) 951-4500.


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